Television

''When you stand at the line and decide to run, is when the race begins for you. Which is where Nick is today' : Pradeep Hejmadi - Nickelodeon India business and operations head

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MTV Networks India could not have managed to rope in a better person than the research head of its staunchest rival in the country, to revive kid channel Nickelodeon in May this year.

Pradeep Hejmadi's appointment as business and operations head of Nickelodeon, which is now being revamped as the slicker and savvier Nick, comes at a time when the network has identified India as a critical market for a major Nick push.

Hejmadi, who began his career with Times FM in 1994, has had media planning and buying experience with HTA and Discovery Communications before moving to Turner. At Turner, where he spent the last four years, Hejmadi was responsible for CNN, CNN.com, Cartoon Network and Cartoonnetworkindia.com.

With research his forte, it is not surprising that every little detail of programming and marketing that is being reworked on Nick today, is backed by meticulous consumer research and in-depth understanding of the young viewer mindset. On his shoulders lies the primary responsibility of prodding Nick India out of its slumber and into viewer consciousness, and bringing it on par with the tremendous popularity it enjoys in other countries. The job is even more daunting thanks to the many rivals the genre promises to throw up in the coming months.

In a talk with indiantelevision.com's Aparna Joshi, Hejmadi talks about Nick, both in India and internationally, as well as his favourite subject - kids' mindsets.

Why did Viacom decide to revamp Nick in India this year? Why wasn't it given a chance earlier?

Viacom is a multi network company. When it comes to focusing on international markets, it goes one by one. It was the US, UK, Australia and now its Asia's turn. This year, the network has targeted India. It's not just because of the competition heating up. The fact that the market is looking attractive is what is driving everybody.

India is today a critical market. From a Nick perspective, it was more a function of the company restructuring that was happening in the background and that it was going market by market. Making media businesses click is all about timing, and maintaining the sanctity of the brand. You, of course, also need the resources to make it click.

Is the Indian market ready for so many kids' channels?

There are consumers in every space, and they have an appetite for channels. Right now, kids don't have much variety. When good content comes in, the market will explode. Mobile telephony is a classic example of this kind in India. There are very interesting spaces available in the kids' space, and we aim to exploit those.

How has the growth been for Nick in the last two years?

Nick has completed 25 years internationally, and a big thrust was started last year. The whole focus is coming together in India this year, when localisation kicked off. Firstly, we turned to 12 hours of Hindi programming, then came the bundling with the One Alliance - we have now touched 20 million households.

Getting film star Saif Ali Khan as a brand ambassador increased numbers immediately, as far as getting viewers to sample the channel is concerned. The whole idea was to get kids to understand Nick as a brand. Also, we did a promotion called Nick Takes Over Your Home, with Asian Paints, which celebrates their space in their home.

Are you going to use Saif any more as a brand ambassador ?

We are looking at how we can use Saif more, but after Hum Tum, his star status has risen and his time is at a premium, but there are options available in that space. Probably some more Bollywood celebrities....

Why Bollywood celebrities as brand ambassadors for a kids' channel?

To children, Bollywood means something else. Though I agree that Bollywood images- the item songs et cetera can be quite gross, but to children, it signifies big stars, super heroes, and they are in awe of them.

Nick is conscious that Bollywood comes with its baggage. Whatever Bollywood properties appear on Nick will not portray any negative images.

What is your take on children watching television? Recent studies that say that television is not good for children...

Common sense says that children would become more inactive, if they are parked in their seats and watching TV constantly. It is the overall lack of innovation that is at fault, however. Which is why even our programming encourages children to think about playing, not just cricket or football.

"Let's just play' encourages children to innovate and invent new games. Imagining and engaging in these games is crucial.

'We are also looking at any new platform that emerges, like DTH. Though the number of households it fetches may be small, in terms of enabling consumers, it is huge'

How much has the Nick team grown by, since 2004?

A separate ad sales team is being built for Nick. We also have centralised research and are getting a lot of dedicated resources for developing the content. Advertising and programming budgets and infrastructure investments have also increased exponentially this year.

What are the distribution targets for the first year of revamp?

Even if we were to target 50 per cent of all C&S households that are supposed to have children, we are almost there with 20 million households locked in. But apart from that, we are also looking at any new platform that emerges, like DTH. Though the number of households it fetches may be small, in terms of enabling consumers, it is huge. We are not looking at exclusivity, but we have to find platforms which have a mix of rural and urban markets.

Any particular SEC you are targeting as a brand?

The focus is to appeal to the SEC A, B and C. Because of language, the focus was earlier SEC A, very metro centric. A lot of properties are shortly going to be put up which will speak to every class of kids everywhere. We had a syndicated block on Zee for a while, which created an interesting familiarity with the characters like Spongebob, Jimmy. That's working for us.

Will Nick move towards more of non animation programming in the coming days?

It's going to be a mix of non animation, animation, long and short formats, which includes movies. The key in kids' space is variety. Nick has always had it, except it wasn't localised. We have our own patented game shows, characters, and have a complete handle on how Nick should be positioned in different markets. The biggest success of Nick in any international market has been because of its localisation.

Patented game shows.... Have you identified any local production houses who would be doing these for you?

Yes, but we cannot announce them right now.

How soon will they be on air?

Very soon.

 
'Beverages like Horlicks, now don't talk to the mothers but to the kids. Kids are providing an interesting repositioning opportunity'

How crucial will the game show genre be in the Nick programming space?

Very. But we cannot bundle it all together. The essence of the game show is the secret sauce, the little something that sets it apart. Prizes can't be the draw for kids, unlike KBC, but we have found that elusive formula. When we are localising these shows, we know exactly how we are going to do it, because the formula has been successful in other markets, where the competition is far more intense.

Which is the other genre that would be localised?

We are looking at fiction based shows too. Nick has a clear philosophy - we don't encourage negativism. Of our original cartoon characters, none has violent traits, because kids have a tendency to emulate the characters they see. Most of our characters are child-like. The negative aspect may be that they are not good looking, but do kids care about that?

Since timing these new shows will be a crucial aspect, when do you plan to put out the new shows?

There are properties that will come on air by the fourth quarter of this year. As we speak, there are properties that will get on air by September, because timing is of essence now. Some of them will have both on and off air presence, some existing properties will get an added thrust.

The foundation is also critical. We have to stay on the ball, to make sure the timing is right, and to build the brand simultaneously. Because the biggest challenge of communication is communication itself.

What will be Nick's marketing and promo strategy?

Kids as consumers are very different from adults. If I take billboards and bus shelters, the chances that kids are going to see them are very less than that of adults. What you are saying to kids also has to be simplified and relevant. On air, your programming grid has to be strategic too.

We are currently auditing effectiveness of certain media, so that we can make an interesting and relevant connect with children.

How much of anime will Nick use?

We have some properties in this space under development right now, some episodes have already been made. But anime is an acquired taste. Certain forms of animation can also be fads. The most interesting thing about animation is their central characters, who live in their own world. They have to connect with children, with anime it's a challenge. Anime pitches in such an imaginary space, they come across as very alien. Boys take well to alien, girls don't, while is what has happened in India. Pokemon is an exception, because of the connect factor it provides.

Anime as a genre, very very challenging.

Nick will use anime style, but it will still have a different way of portraying it.

What kind of advertising is the new Nick looking at?

In the conventional advertising space, what is conventional is getting redefined. For instance, bakery was not perceived as conventional kids' advertising category. Today, media targeting has moved to the kids' space. Also, beverages like Horlicks, now don't talk to the mothers but to the kids.

Kids are providing an interesting re-positioning opportunity. More players coming into the kids' space will also help. Two years ago, four to 14 was just one kids' space. Today, even that space is being classified into toddlers, tweens and teens. With more content coming in, there will be even more differentiation. An advertiser will be able to narrowcast his brand, and he can identify his creative and media target groups too.

Also, the perception about the rating points will also begin to change. A lot of the advertisers will begin to dwell on connecting with the child and then questioning whether rating points are relevant.

Does Nick too have any wireless plans?

Mobile for me is a delivery platform as well, games, screensavers, the works. Even as a response mechanism, yes we are thinking of it. It's already on in the UK, and I would try it in India as well. We also have to think of the mobile phones that are made for children, available abroad. We have businesses on those platforms internationally, and we are interestingly poised to bring that into the local market. But the market has to be ready as well, commercially.

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